I thought that writing my proposal draft for last week would be really difficult after having seen the proposal presentations by second year students in historical methods last semester. Of course I realize that I as watching the presentation of a final, polished draft. We could not come close to that with our first drafts. Still, I was a little concerned about writing the proposal in the middle of the semester, since I wasn’t sure I would be able to say enough.
In reality, writing the proposal draft was not as awful as I feared. Since we had worked all semester on getting together a bibliography and addressing the questions useful for writing a proposal, the process of putting it all together was not so bad. Writing the proposal draft helped me get an even stronger grasp on what exactly I’m doing with my project. Thinking about the limitations to the project was an especially good exercise, since I can now tailor more of my work to addressing these possible drawbacks. Putting my thoughts from the reading I have done this semester into cohesive form gave me a much clearer idea of what I actually want to accomplish with this thesis and how I should go about doing so. Now, when someone asks me what I am studying, I feel pretty confident that I can explain it to them concisely, which will certainly make meeting people easier!
Working on this draft also gave me good ideas about what to change and add for my next draft. First, I’d like to deepen both my historiography and primary source base, which more reading and research should take care of. This will also help me figure out a better outline for the chapters of my thesis—the outline I proposed in this draft reflects my preliminary thoughts, but I feel like it will and should change as I get further into the research. I want to add more secondary reading on the WWI period, since most of what I have used so far discusses the Lost Cause and that aspect of things instead of the period I will actually be studying. I have already started on this, but not enough to have added anything to my proposal draft.
For example, this week I read two books on America during the period I am looking at. First, I read Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight: Race, Class, and Power in the Rural South during the First World War, by Jeanette Keith (2004). In this book, Keith examines draft resistance in the rural south during WWI. Her discussion gives a good overview of the tensions of the period. I was struck to read her assertion that “we have no idea how Americans actually felt about the war in 1918,” since government vigilance had effectively quashed dissent by then (200). Since I am attempting to study public discourse on WWI and the Civil War, the idea that people might not have been saying what they thought presents an issue I will need to discuss. Keith also makes interesting points about southern politicians’ use of Confederate rhetoric in support of WWI, which I want to examine in greater depth.
The second book was D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation: A History of “The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time,” by Melvyn Stokes (2007). Stokes discusses the Lost Cause viewpoint of the film, as well as various reactions to it which I think can reveal some of how contemporaries viewed the Lost Cause when the film came out in 1915. The film’s relationship to WWI as an anti-war piece is interesting, as are reactions by critics of the film’s portrayal of blacks who pointed to African American service in WWI to refute the film’s stereotypes. One of my other secondary sources makes the point that cinema overtook monument building as a way to memorialize the past in the early twentieth century—this film would definitely fit that category if I want to consider this argument. This book gives a revealing look at the culture of the time as well, which will be useful for my project.
I look forward to polishing my proposal as I incorporate more secondary and primary source work!